Monday, February 22, 2016

Your Strong-Willed Book

By David Sharp

As a writer, there's nothing quite as magical as that moment when your manuscript first takes a life of its own. It's like meeting your child for the first time, only hopefully the manuscript isn't all covered in goo and shouting at you. I remember the first time a manuscript ever started telling me the story. It didn't feel like writing. It seemed passive. More like witnessing something than creating it. It is a beautiful moment when you realize that your story is alive.

Your child and your book conspiring over a plate of sugar.
AKA: Trouble Brewing.

However, manuscripts bring challenges with them too. Like children, manuscripts go through a toddler phase.  They grow bigger and stronger. They go through destructive periods. They become adolescents. They are angsty and awkward. They are willful. They want to tell the story that they want to tell.

Soon, you may find yourself having arguments with your manuscript:

Book: Hey, Dad!

Me: What's up book?

Book: Can I have some space dragons?

Me: Absolutely not.

Book: Well, Jimmy Dawkins's book has them.

Me: Well, I'm not Jimmy Dawkins. And you need healthier content than space dragons. Have you seen how much saturated fluff is in one space dragon!?

Book: What's that? I couldn't hear you through the Lack of Roaring Awesomeness!

Me: Okay. If you'll develop your themes, I'll think about giving you a reference to space dragons.

Book: Why are you always on me about developing my themes? They're my themes, and I like them undeveloped.

Me: Developing themes is good for you. It builds character.

Book: How did I know you were going to bring character into this?

It's important to feed your writing a steady diet
that is rich in plot and imagery and...
Okay, I can only stretch this metaphor so far!
I don't know what your conversations sound like. But I'll bet you have them. And if you do, take comfort that you are not alone. Here are some parenting tips that we can also apply to our young stories.

-Adapt your writing to fit your book.

Some books thrive on structure and require lots of notes and outlines. Others are more free spirited. Maybe as a writer, you prefer one way over the other, but I've had stories that needed a lot of guidance and others that practically wrote themselves. If one method isn't working, don't be afraid to try something different. Even strategies that have worked before may not be right for the current project.

-Establish consistent rules and boundaries.

It's good to know what your writing project is and what it is not. A discourse on Plato should probably avoid any mention of space dragons even if Jimmy Dawkins's book has them. Once you set the tone of your piece, it is important to keep it consistent. Readers will call you out if you don't. Even the most outlandish fantasy writing has to play by the rules you set for it. Develop a vision for your writing, and establish the boundaries early on. However, see the next point…

-Foster your book's independence.

Lording your authority over your book is a sure fire way to find it rebelling against you. While we shouldn't give in to our books' every whim, we also shouldn't close ourselves off to them completely. We can learn a lot about our stories if we let them speak to us and accept what they have to say.

-Avoid harsh discipline. Let the punishment fit the crime.

Maybe you get frustrated by your story, and you are tempted to throw it into the fireplace when you only really need to give it a time out. Your relationship with your writing can be very frustrating, but overreacting only damages the bond between you. When you need to, take a break from your writing, count to ten, and don't do something that you'll only regret later.

Now I promised I would write a few paragraphs on space dragons.

Meanwhile, please share your own parenting tips for young books. 


Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm a terrible book parent, just like I'm a terrible cat parent. Both get their way too often and too long so I'm left with massive rewrites/revisions...and re-upholstered chairs.

April Moore said...

Books can be so surly and undisciplined! Throwing them into the fireplace might be a bit drastic, but time out in a file box or drawer ought to straighten them out.

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